Philip Barker ©ITG

One hundred years ago, a scandal in baseball rocked American sport to its foundations.

Eight members of the Chicago White Sox baseball team were banned for life for fixing the 1919 World Series, the grand showpiece of the baseball season. It was an episode that has continued to resonate through the century since, inspiring the movies Eight Men Out and Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams.

Yet behind the scenes, all was not well. In those days, a "reserve clause" ensured players were controlled by the club owners and had no freedom to move. Those from Chicago were played significantly less than some at other clubs.

First baseman Charles Arnold Gandil, known as "Chick", described owner Charles Comiskey as "a sarcastic, belittling man who was the tightest owner in baseball. There was a common bond amongst us, our dislike for Comiskey".

It was even claimed that Comiskey would not pay an allowance for laundry, so the players made a point of not cleaning their uniforms, earning the nickname "Black Sox". This would later be associated with a far more sinister reason.

The team was undoubtedly talented. It included Joe Jackson, a farm worker from South Carolina. He was nicknamed "Shoeless Joe" because he had once played a minor league match in his socks because the boots he had been given did not fit.

Jackson received no formal education and was unable to read and write. He was initially reluctant to make the move to the big city. Scouts persisted and Jackson did finally agree to a move. He stood six foot one tall and proved a natural.

"You could tell he loved playing baseball just by watching him," said Ty Cobb, himself considered one of the great players of the era. "I used my brain to become a great hitter. I studied the art scientifically. Jackson just swung."

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, but in 1919 the White Sox were on the march again to win the American League pennant.

In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds beat the Giants to clinch that title.

Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had a reputation for meanness - even refusing to pay for laundry, leading the players to not wash their kit and earning the nickname the "Black Sox" ©Getty Images
Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had a reputation for meanness - even refusing to pay for laundry, leading the players to not wash their kit and earning the nickname the "Black Sox" ©Getty Images

It was already a momentous year because of an individual achievement by a player called Babe Ruth. He hit an astonishing 29 home runs, beating a record which had stood since the 19th century. In time, the "Babe" would become a superstar who broke every record in the book and made baseball the supreme summer sport in the United States. 

There were many who considered the Chicago White Sox as the finest baseball team there had ever been. As a result, they were overwhelming favourites to win the World Series again.

Many years later, in an interview with the respected American magazine Sports Illustrated, Gandil reflected on the scandal. Cast as  the "ringleader" in the fix, he claimed he had been approached by bookmaker Joseph "Sport" Sullivan.

Others had been approached at other clubs. Whereas now, contact would be made by a mobile phone, in September 1919, Gandil was said to have made his way to a secret rendezvous with Sullivan at the Buckminster Hotel in Boston. It seems that a figure of $80,000 was discussed to fix the biggest matches in baseball.

Gandil then reported back and spoke to seven of his team mates at the Hotel Ansonia in New York City. This was an establishment which had a reputation for attracting shady individuals and gamblers.

"Sleepy" Bill Burns was another gambler also keen to become involved and offered $100,000 .

Approaches were then made to Arnold Rothstein, a high-rolling gambler, to finance the whole deal. A total of $40,000 was delivered to "Sport" Sullivan for distribution to the eight players involved in the plot. It was claimed that an additional $40,000 was to be placed in a safe at the Hotel Congress in Chicago for distribution on the completion of the deal.

Rumours were widespread and, before the Series opened, there was a sharp shift in the betting odds in favour of the Cincinnati Reds, the home team for the first two matches of the series.

It seems that many people had an inkling something untoward was happening.

White Sox pitcher Eddie "Knuckles" Cicotte hit Reds batter Morrie Rath on the back with a pitch. It later emerged this was a pre-arranged  signal so that Rothstein, following proceedings from afar, would know that the "fix was on". Cicotte had been the most consistent player in the Chicago team. Now, though, he began to perform erratically. 

Charles Arnold Gandil is widely seen as the ringleader of the match-fixing scandal ©Wikipedia
Charles Arnold Gandil is widely seen as the ringleader of the match-fixing scandal ©Wikipedia

Cincinnati prevailed 9-1 in the opening match of the Series. "Never before in the history of America's biggest baseball spectacle has a pennant-winning club received such a disastrous drubbing in an opening game," reported the New York Times.

In the second game, Cincinnati won 4-2 again to take a 2-0 lead in the series as they travelled to Chicago for the third match.

Although the gamblers had taken their profits, no money had been paid to the players. Gandil reported years later that some of the players received threatening telephone calls.

In any case, not all of the team were in on the fix. Dicky Kerr pitched superbly to shut out as the White Sox won the third match to reduce the deficit. Gandil, for his part, scored in a 3-0 victory which reduced the deficit. It was another signal to the gamblers to indicate the players had not been paid.

It was thought an additional $20,000 came to Gandil at this point and this was distributed to other players.

The fourth game was very closely contested until the fifth inning, but then two errors swung proceedings towards Cincinnati.

They won again in the fifth and in the sixth.

Yet the White Sox responded to win the seventh game.

Excitement grew that they might level the series. Now events took an even more sinister turn. A hoodlum visited Williams and threatened his family.

Williams, hitherto a star of the Series, was understandably shaken. Chicago lost game eight and, with it, the World Series.

The Chicago White Sox were the overwhelming favourites in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds ©Wikipedia
The Chicago White Sox were the overwhelming favourites in the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds ©Wikipedia

Comiskey and team manager Kid Gleason remained suspicious. After midnight, Comiskey spoke to National League commissioner John Heydler. At 3am, he also contacted American League supremo Ban Johnson.

Cincinnati outfielder and baseball Hall-of-Famer Ed Roush insisted "one thing that is always overlooked in this mess is that we could have beaten them no matter what the circumstances".

In October, Jackson asked for a meeting with Comiskey and later sent him a letter. Both were ignored.

Gandil was said to have bought a home, a car and jewellery. He did not report for pre-season practice in 1920 and it was rumoured that he had absconded with the cash he had been given for the other players.

Even though there were often huge signs in the ballparks which said "NO BETTING", it was common knowledge that gambling was rife, though some refused to believe it.

Francis Richter, editor of the Reach Official Baseball Guide insisted "any man who knows anything about baseball and baseball players, knows absolutely that both the game and its exemplars are absolutely honest as far as its public presentation are concerned".

He went on to assert "any man who insinuates that the 1919 World Series was not honourably played by any participant therein, not only does not know what he is talking about, but is a menace to the game".

There had been enough other betting irregularities to prompt Journalist Hugh Fullerton to try and investigate. Many in the sport were in denial and poured scorn on his articles.

Eventually he wrote a piece in the New York Evening World to ask, "Is Big League Baseball Being Run for Gamblers, With Players in the Deal?"

In 1920, there came a bombshell from Bill Veeck, senior President of the Chicago Cubs and a respected baseball journalist. He announced that approaches had been made to his players to influence the result of their match against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The scandal was front-page news all over the United States ©Wikipedia
The scandal was front-page news all over the United States ©Wikipedia

An investigation by the grand jury in Cook County Illinois investigated the affair. Presiding judge Charles McDonald was so concerned, he recommended expanding their brief and ordered there should also be investigations into the happenings during the 1919 World Series.

Comiskey told the hearings: "If any of my players are not honest, I'll fire them no matter who they are. If I can't get honest players to fill their places, I'll close the gates of the park I have taken a lifetime to build."

The hearings were a sensation.

Pitcher Cicotte made the devastating admission: "I threw the Game."

He admitted he had pitched so slowly, "batters might have read the trademark on the ball. A baby could have hit 'em".

The revelations of "wholesale duplicity and crookedness" caused international headlines.

Banner headlines in the Chicago Daily Tribune told how "TWO SOX CONFESS".

A report said: "Yesterday, a Cook County (Illinois) grand jury voted indictments against eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox after pitcher Eddie Cicotte and outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson told how the 1919 World Series was fixed for the Cincinnati Reds to win."

The charge levelled against the eight was "conspiracy to commit an illegal act".

When it was announced, Comiskey sent a letter to the eight involved, effectively sacking them from the club.

The story of
The story of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson has become part of American folklore ©Wikipedia

"If you are innocent you will be re-instated," he wrote. "If you are guilty, you will be retired from organised baseball for the rest of your lives if I can accomplish it."

There remained a twist or two in the story. Before the cases could come to formal court, the relevant documents mysteriously went missing. Without evidence, all eight players were found not guilty by the jury.

Even so, the scandal had shaken the sport. A commissioner for baseball was appointed. The man chosen to take the post was a Federal judge. Keneshaw Mountain Landis.

He announced that all eight would indeed be banned for life from top baseball. "Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball," he said.

The Chicago Herald and Examiner newspaper carried a report that as Jackson walked away from the hearing "one little urchin in the crowd called out, 'It ain't true, is it?' Jackson replied: 'I'm afraid it is'."

"Well, I'd never have thought it," the boy exclaimed.

So was born the legend of the boy saying, "Say it ain't so, Joe."

Jackson never did play Major League Baseball again, although both he and Cicotte later played in minor matches using false names.

One of the banned eight was Buck Weaver. He protested his innocence and made a plea for reinstatement. He told Landis that though he was aware of the bribes on offer, he had never accepted any monies.

His words fell on deaf ears and, like the others, he was never to play again at the top level.

Eight Chicago White Sox players involved in the scandal were fired and never played in the Major League again ©Wikipedia
Eight Chicago White Sox players involved in the scandal were fired and never played in the Major League again ©Wikipedia

That year proved to be a curious one with other scandals as the world returned to normal following the end of World War One. In English football, Leeds City were disbanded after they were discovered making illegal payments to players. Arsenal were promoted to the First Division in the first post-war season, despite finishing only fifth in the Second Division in the last season before the fighting began. They have stayed there ever since, being the only football club in English football never to be relegated. 

As baseball returned to normal in the 1920s, the exploits of Babe Ruth and, later, Lou Gehrig helped restore its reputation, but the tale of the 1919 World Series has fascinated ever since. Rumours circulated that matches were still being fixed throughout the twenties.

The threats posed by illegal gambling practices in sport have never gone away. In the 1960s and 1970s, attempts to fix matches were discovered in England, Germany and Italy. The problem also resurfaced in baseball, and in cricket. Now it wasn’t so much the entire match, but spot-fixing of small details. The advent of new technology, including mobile smart phones, has made it easier to evade detection. Players are often required to deposit their mobile devices outside the dressing room in top-level elite sport.

A decade ago, then-International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge warned even the Olympic Games might be at risk. "Illegal and irregular betting is a major threat for sport, probably at the same level as doping," he said. 

An "Integrity Betting Intelligence System" was established in 2013 to "assess the risks of competition manipulation connected to sports betting and aggregates". 

It brought together International Federations and sports betting operators. The Olympic Movement's strategy for "Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions" introduced a code of conduct in 11 languages. There were also interactive e-learning and educational videos.

Many International Federations, both inside and out of the Olympic Movement, have their own organisations in place.

In rugby union, a campaign to "Keep Rugby Onside" with similar guidelines has operated during the World Cup in Japan.

The International Association of Athletics Federations established an Athletics Integrity Unit which conducted what they described as "a widescale bet monitoring operation" during the World Championships in Doha earlier this month.